NORTHWOOD | A North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill testified in court Tuesday that caring for the 154 dogs became overwhelming following the death of her husband last year.
Barbara Kavars, 65, Manly, is asking the Worth County Magistrate Court to allow her to keep nine Samoyeds and four cats seized by the Worth County Sheriff's Office and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last month.
Kavars claims she didn't neglect the animals and said she has cleaned part of her home and three of her 32 kennels since her dogs were seized.
“I will have so much more time for them,” Kavars said. “My dogs were well-groomed when I had time.”
The animals were seized during an animal neglect-related search warrant. Kavars has not been charged with a crime, but the ASPCA says charges are pending.
Kavars, who took notes throughout the hearing Monday, testified in court Tuesday afternoon as the only witness for her attorney, Michael Byrne.
Magistrate Douglas Krull ordered the media to not photograph or record Kavars while she was on the stand. Byrne argued it would cause her emotional stress.
Video: ASPCA removes 170 dogs from Worth County puppy mill
Kavars said things had been difficult since her husband was diagnosed with cancer in January 2014. The couple had been breeding Samoyeds since 1998.
“I realized I would be doing everything myself,” she said.
She said care for her husband got in the way of the dogs right away.
Kavars’ husband died in June 2017, and that’s when things started getting more and more out of control.
“I was feeling overwhelmed with him being gone,” she said. Her husband had done most of the heavy lifting before he became ill.
Kavars claimed she had contacted agencies to take some of the dogs before 2017 but some organizations “would not work with a breeder.”
“I was a little overwhelmed in 2018,” Kavars said. “Feeding and caring for the animals was more important than cleaning at the time.”
Authorities expressed concerns about the dogs' matted coats and overgrown nails.
“Grooming came after maintaining the food and water,” she said. “I also felt it was more important to give the dogs attention and love all the time, too.”
In 2018, her vet told her that the Humane Society of North Iowa would take some of the dogs.
Kavars estimated that through the year, she has released about 100 dogs to the Humane Society.
Worth County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Grunhovd said Monday that he was initially called out to the property due to some concern over the number of dogs Kavars had.
ASPCA officials said the dogs' water buckets were frozen.
Kavars allegedly told Grunhovd she didn't give the dogs water every day during the winter because they liked to eat snow and ice. She rebutted that claim in court, saying she gave them water every day.
Grunhovd noted the snow was on top of feces and urine.
“It’s an easy way for the animals to get dehydrated,” he said.
ASPCA Forensic Veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Pearlman said snow and ice are not enough water for the dogs.
“Drinking ice has the opposite effect of what you might think,” Pearlman said. She said ice can burn tongues from licking and forces the body to work harder to warm up the liquid.
ASPCA Investigator Kyle Held said in his testimony that the dogs’ frozen water buckets contained deep lick marks, meaning the dogs were working hard to get water.
According to Pearlman, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska does not allow the dogs to eat snow. The dogs are given fresh, warm drinking water.
On Nov. 6, Grunhovd said he saw Kavars dragging a tarp through her yard when he visited. Inside the tarp was a dog named Yeager.
According to Kavars, the dog was injured in a fight with another dog. The other dog was able to get into Yeager’s kennel due to a fallen tree by the fence, according to Grunhovd.
Grunhovd said he assisted her with getting the dog into her vehicle so she could take him to the vet in Forest City.
“I wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive, then it lifted its head up,” Grunhovd said Monday.
The dog, which Grunhovd testified smelled of feces, was caked in mud and had an open wound on its back, died within two days of going to the vet.
“I’m not here to help care for animals,” Grunhovd said.
Byrne asked if the the sheriff’s department or the county offered to help Kavars or provide additional assistance.
Grunhovd said the county did not offer and later added, after additional questioning by Winnebago County Attorney Kelsey Beenken, that it is not normal for the county to offer so much assistance to a business.
Beenken is representing Worth County in this case.
White Fire Kennels is considered a business as she was selling dogs as recently as the Nov. 11, the day before the animals were seized.
“The sheriff’s office has provided significant resources to this business,” he said. “She should be responsible for her own business.”
That week, Grunhovd drafted two search warrants, one for the property to get a better look at the animals and another for an autopsy on Yeager.
According to her testimony, Kavars said she had continued to sell puppies as she was releasing older male dogs to the Humane Society of North Iowa.
“The Humane Society can’t be an overstock for all unsellable dogs,” Grunhovd said.
One of the dogs Kavars wants to keep is pregnant.
"If we were to reward back a dog that is pregnant, we will be back in this situation next year," Pearlman said during her testimony late Monday afternoon.
Kavars repeatedly told him she wanted to get rid of some of the dogs, Grunhovd testified, but every time she let go of a few of them, more puppies were born.
The pregnant dog is considered "thin" on the Purina Body Condition Score. According to Pearlman, the dog is breaking down its own muscle to feed the growing puppies as she does not have enough fat stores.
Pearlman said many of the dogs were underweight and cited instances of severe matting and progresses dental diseases. She also mentioned several dogs with “flea dirt” or flea feces, meaning that the dog had previously or currently has fleas.
Kavars appeared to keep her head down, occasionally making notes, when images of the dogs were shown Monday afternoon.
Pearlman said she also noticed visible intestinal parasites hanging from the dogs' rectums and has some concern of “parisitis spreading like wildfire” due to the unsanitary conditions.
Byrne argued that since all the animals were removed, Kavars would have plenty of room for the 13 animals and the puppies to be born.
He showed more recent photos of the house, which showed where Kavars had recently cleaned.
To walk into the house, Grunhovd said he had to step over an immobile dog named Myles.
Myles, an 11-year-old blind male, was unable to stand or walk on his own.
According to Pearlman, Myles was in critical condition and was showing signs of dehydration. He was laying in a puddle of his own urine and could not access his food and water bowls several feet away.
Myles was immediately taken to an animal hospital where it was discovered that he had a heart-based tumor, a severely enlarged prostate and arthritis among other issues.
Kavars initially wanted to keep Myles until he died. Pearlman said he was humanely euthanized after the seizure, and said failure to do so could constitute neglect.
Grunhovd, Held and Pearlman all noted the strong smell of ammonia in the house.
“You couldn’t catch your breath,” Grunhovd said.
Byrne asked if ammonia exposure had any effects on dogs.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of ammonia exposure but it literally burns your nose and throat,” Pearlman said.
Kavars claims that while there may have been “some” ammonia odor that day from saturated puppy pee pads in the home, there was not usually an ammonia odor.
“The pee pads was for the dogs in the house because I was so busy caring for the outside dogs,” Kavars said. “I wanted an area for then to use so they didn’t use the whole house.”
She said the house got messy because she was so focused on the dogs outside.
“I did feel that they were more important than myself and the house,” she said, claiming she was unaffected by the ammonia smell in her home.
Kavars said she knew about 150 dogs by sight, but had trouble identifying some in photographs.
She recalled being upset the day they were seized.
“All those people were terrorizing my dogs,” she said. “I wanted to calm them, but I wasn’t allowed.”
Kavars claimed she was rushed and pressured into signing the surrender agreement.
“She was under no pressure to surrender the animals,” Grunhovd said. “We asked her how many she was willing to release, and she couldn't give a number.”
Kavars said Held told her how many she could keep and she negotiated.
“It was hard to pick nine dogs,” she said. “There were so many special dogs that I had.”
Kavars said she was under the impression that the animals she selected would remain with her.
“I guess that day I was very stressed,” she said, also claiming that she did not know she was actually releasing the dogs to the county.
At the end of the day, Kavars was given a copy of the search warrant and a receipt of seized items and animals.
Kavars said that she would not continue breeding if the dogs were returned. When Beenken asked if the dogs would be spayed and neutered, she said she was unsure.
She also said that she believes that her dogs, in general, were in good health. Officials have said many of the dogs were in need of medical care.
Krull is expected to rule on Kavars' request for custody of the 13 animals before the Christmas holiday.
Photos: Inside the kennels, home of a North Iowa woman accused of running a puppy mill
Photos: North Iowa woman accused of operating puppy mill appears in court